Reformed theology is also referred to as Covenant theology. This, along with Dispensational theology seems to be the two major players in human thought and doctrine, as far as attempts by man in finding or creating a system of understanding Scripture. As you may surmise, I am not a big fan of human teachings and systems of doctrine. I would prefer God’s thoughts, and that we search for them. I would prefer the Holy Spirit doing the teaching, if we will allow Him. And the ministers and teachers try to be mere vessels and instruments of God’s working and grace (II Cor. 4:7, Phil. 2:13).
There are many broad biblical principles discussed in these chapters. When you understand them and agree that they have basis in God’s Word, then you truly begin to see the forest instead of always staring at the trees. You really can understand better the length of scriptures. I am excited by what God is willing to teach through His Spirit and Word. I’m amazed at how God never is in error and never makes mistakes. When our eyes are opened, it all makes sense. It all fits. God’s counsels are truly amazing.
Covenants and Dispensations are both found in the scriptures, and so we should talk about them. I’m not convinced either one is the best way of viewing the scope of Scripture, at least in how these two systems are set up by men. In discussing here these two doctrinal systems I will have to assume some familiarity with them on the part of the reader. In this chapter I’ll also discuss what I believe to be God’s way of viewing Scripture. But first we’ll say a few things about both.
The Two Sons of Abraham – the Two Main Covenants Involving God and Man
“For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar.”
Some of the detail from our discussion in the last chapter concerning the covenants and Galatians 3-4 is repeated here. Please forgive me for the redundancy. There are only two covenants that the Spirit of God through Paul sees fit to discuss in Galatians. When we count covenants, only three are discussed in any detail in all the New Testament. We’ll get to the third one shortly. However, these two covenants are the main ones we need to see and understand. One was given to Abraham and confirmed in his one Seed. The other was given to Israel at Mt. Sinai – the Law of Moses. But simply, two covenants worth discussing.
Is there a Covenant in Paradise? Not Likely
Right away we should notice we are not discussing a covenant with Adam and Eve in paradise. There was no covenant then. There was no Law of Moses or Law of God given to Adam. The thought of a covenant in the garden is a creation of the human mind. Adam had no neighbors and could not love his neighbor as himself, or covet his neighbor’s wife or possessions. There was no law of God. Adam was in innocence – without the knowledge of good and evil. If he was given laws, he would not have been able to apply them without such a conscience and knowledge. Adam was given a command by his Creator that required obedience – do not eat the fruit of this certain tree. He did not look at the fruit and think it was evil, he wouldn’t have known this. Eve did not know the serpent was evil, nor did she know what he was saying was evil. Adam was required to obey one command. To be sure it was a testing of man in responsibility, and failure was soon in coming. But this is not a covenant. It is not the law spelling out evil and transgressions. And it was not work for Adam, for there was no work for man in paradise. It was the rest of God on the earth.
A Covenant Before the World Existed? Again, not likely
Also we do not see the existence of a covenant before the foundations of the world. That would fall into the category of the thoughts of men as well. Where in scripture is another covenant spelled out, as we see done concerning these two covenants in Galatians 3-4? The fuller truth of God concerning the Trinity was not revealed until the Son became flesh and came into this world. Are we to take this revelation back before the world was created, and say they made a covenant with each other? Why do we think the Trinity of the Godhead even needed an agreement with each other?
Before the Foundation of the World – the Counsels of God
What do the scriptures reveal concerning things from before the foundations of the world? It’s not a covenant. Rather it is that the eternal God existed, and that He had His very own counsels. Also we see a ‘Lamb slain’ before the foundations of the world (Rev. 13:8), which alone is the basis and foundation for all God’s counsels. The Lamb slain is not part of these counsels, but is the redemptive work in view by which God accomplishes all His plans. However what is revealed as part of God’s counsels is the believer chosen and accepted in Christ before time began (II Tim. 1:9, Titus 1:2, Eph. 1:4).
The counsels are the plans God made. The plans speak of the work God would do on behalf of His creation. God works and God rests. The counsels of God are His plans that describe all His working. The death of the Lamb is the means of reconciling all things back to God (Col. 1:20), by which God, in turn, shows grace and blessing according to His own good pleasure and counsels (Eph. 1:9).
Also it is revealed that the Son and the Father shared a divine glory together in eternity past before the world existed (John 17:5). This is not part of the counsels of God. The Godhead did not plan and counsel their own divinity, nor the eternal glory associated with it. What is part, however, is Christ re-entering this previous glory as the glorified Man. There is more to the subject of God’s counsels than simply this understanding. What I shared here concerning ‘before time began’ is what is revealed in the Word.
There is another principle displayed in the phrase ‘before the foundation of the world.’ It involves the understanding of the above points overlaid with a certain spiritual perspective. Here is a list of the thoughts involved:
v Everything that God reveals as a truth existing ‘before the foundation of the world’ stands on its own completely separated from the world, having no association or relationship with the world.
v The slain Lamb is a revealed truth that preceded the existence of the world (Rev. 13:8). More accurately, the book of the slain Lamb with names written in it is what existed. However this only affirms the truth that the thought of the slain Lamb was present.
v The Son of Man title identifies Jesus Christ as the slain Lamb (John 12:23-24). When the Son of Man is lifted up from the earth as the slain Lamb, it is in this understanding – as apart from the world (John 12:32). At this time the world was judged and condemned by God (John 12:31). [This is not the same truth that is taught in John 3:14. The lifting up of the Son of Man in that passage is Christ condemned by God as being made sin on our behalf – the serpent lifted up in type. However John 12 is the separation of the Son of Man from the world, as in relationship and association.]
v The individual believer and the Body of Christ are revealed in Scripture as ‘before the foundation of the world,’ (Eph. 1:4, II Tim. 1:9, Titus 1:2). The phrase ‘before time began’ carries the same meaning as the phrase ‘before the foundation of the world.’
v Jesus taught this, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16) In John 15:19 He says this, “…you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world…” He repeats essentially the same thing here – John 17:14. This completes the specific revelation of this Biblical truth. However the associated truths around this principle go further. If the believer is apart from the world and earth, it is because we are ‘in Christ’ through a heavenly calling with a heavenly citizenship, etc.
v The revelation of Israel and separate Gentile nations is ‘after the foundation of the world.’ This establishes them as part of the world. The same understandings are true concerning Judaism as a religion. It is God’s religion of the earth and world.
v Christianity is the religion of the slain Lamb and believers found ‘in Christ.’ It is the religion that is apart from this world. It is the religion and faith of the heavenly calling in Christ Jesus (Heb. 3:1)
The Rest of God – man in the garden
God worked for six days bringing forth the original physical creation. He rested on the seventh day. If there was an eighth day God was resting then as well – and a ninth, tenth, and so on. The rest (sabbath) of God was man in paradise in innocence. God wasn’t working and neither was man. I do not see a covenant of works existing between God and man in the garden.
Man’s disobedience and sin ruined the rest of God on the earth. Adam was chased out of paradise, forcibly removed from the sabbath of God. In simple human terms, when this happened, God had to go back to work, and He has been working ever since. Was there a covenant of works man had with God after the fall? That would mean laws were given from God to man to obey. I do not see this existing in the world that was between Adam and the flood. Sin filled up that world (Gen. 6:5-7), and it could be best described as lawlessness (Rom. 2:12).
In dispensational theology they call this period of time ‘conscience.’ Man certainly now had a conscience from Adam’s disobedience, but it was always defiled by the presence of sin in the flesh. There doesn’t seem to be a progressive revelation of God at this time. God doesn’t have a foothold into the earth, but just an occasional testimony in Abel, Enoch and Noah. The dispensationalists name the first two periods of time innocence and conscience. However, if we listen to Peter, the world that existed then was destroyed (II Pet. 2:5-6). What we have when Noah came out of the ark is a new world (II Pet. 2:7). This would be the first mild objection I would have concerning these first two commonly recognized dispensations in their theological system. I would have to think that a dispensation has some connection with this present earth.
What Man Inherits from Adam
Instead of conscience describing a dispensation of time and an existing economy and revelation from God, it better describes part of what all men inherit by natural birth from the first man Adam. And conscience was defiled by something else we receive from Adam – the presence of sin in the flesh. These two things are passed from Adam to all mankind – a defiled conscience and sin in the flesh. What are the fruits of these two things? The committing of sins is one of the fruits – lawlessness without the law or transgressions of the law if you have the law. The other fruits are death and condemnation. All of this, throughout time still is the over-riding problem of the entire human race. By natural birth we are all ‘in Adam’ with no exceptions. These types of understandings and generalized principles of scripture are the truths not adequately addressed in dispensations.
All the products and fruits of the disobedience of Adam were still in Noah and his family when the flood waters receded. What came out of the ark was man in Adam – fallen man. Israel was given the law at Mt. Sinai – the start of another new dispensation called Mosaic Law – and they failed from the outset. Why? At the bottom of the mountain making a golden calf was man in Adam – fallen man. When Messiah was presented to Israel, the nation rejected Him outright. Why? They were “in Adam” as fallen man. In the commonly divided dispensations, this over-riding issue starts in the first and continues through the last, making the various divisions a bit arbitrary.
From Adam man possesses a conscience that knows the difference between right and wrong. There is nothing evil about this knowledge, and the tree with its fruit in paradise was not evil either. It was a testing of responsibility and a matter of obedience. Adam, before the fall, had no need of this knowledge. As long as man obeyed the one command he would have stayed in a state of innocence and remained in the rest of God. But calling the time from the fall to Noah a dispensation of conscience is a bit misleading as far as describing an economy given to man by God. It’s more Adam’s economy given to mankind than anything else, and it did not end at the flood. If Mosaic Law is a dispensation, it is strictly a Jewish one, because the law was never given to anyone else. The dispensations are never as neat and tidy as the dispensationalists would like them to be.
After the flood God makes a covenant with creation and places His sign of covenant in the sky. The curse over creation will be lifted at the beginning of the millennium at the revelation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). After the millennium, the new heavens and the new earth come about by fire (II Pet. 3:7, 10, 12). God’s covenantal promise to not destroy this present creation again by water will be kept.
These are the Two Covenants – Galatians 4:24
It is the two covenants of Galatians 3-4 that are of great significance for man, the Spirit saying through Paul, ‘these are the two covenants.’ The first is the covenant of promise given to Abraham, while the second is the covenant of law given to Israel. I have discussed details about both in different chapters throughout this book, so I will only discuss here certain points of interest.
The covenant of promise is one of sovereign choice and grace by God and is dependent on the faithfulness of God. It was confirmed in Isaac in type when his father offered him up (Gen. 22). In type, because the true Seed in whom the covenant was actually confirmed, is Jesus Christ – the Son of Man raised from the dead. When Jesus tells the disciples this is the new covenant in My blood, it is this covenant of promise and sovereign grace. It is given to Abraham, confirmed in Christ, but does not function as a covenant until after the Son of Man is raised up. This is the covenant the true Christian possesses. Through faith we are sons of Abraham (Gal. 3:7) and sons of God (Gal. 3:26).
The Principle of the Law
How different is the second covenant – the Law of Moses – from the covenant of promise? Different almost in every way except that they are both actually covenants given by God. For starters, the principle of the law is quite different than the principle of promise. It is, do this and live. This is entirely based on the responsibility and performance of man (Rom. 10:5, Luke 10:26-28, Gal. 3:10-12). The covenant of promise first gives you eternal life (Gal. 3:11), sets you in a relationship of sonship (Gal. 3:26), and then your responsibilities are based on the relationship you find yourself in as a son. The principles of the two covenants are opposite each other. Further, the law was a ministry of death and condemnation, while the covenant of promise was a ministry of life and righteousness. It is eternal life and the righteousness of God. So we also see the outcomes of both covenants are opposite.
In the pages of this book we have had numerous discussions concerning the Law of Moses. These discussions are from the scriptures, taught by the Spirit, having great scriptural support. They are profound in their arguments. They show you how to look at the Law of Moses the way that God looks at it, and they teach you God’s reasons and intentions for giving it. And they show you the broad principles concerning the law instead of staring at four hundred laws and ordinances and numerous different sacrifices trying to figure out the inherent spiritual character of each. For example, let us consider the part of the law involving the sacrifices.
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’”
God had No Desire or Pleasure in the Sacrifices of the Law
The first understanding is that the law is a whole entity together. It is the commandments, ordinances, washings, eating of foods, feast days, sabbaths, sacrifices, priesthood, tabernacle furniture etc. You cannot legitimately separate out anything. It is one entire entity. All of Israel became debtors to keep the whole law (Gal. 5:3). In this passage the discussion of the law refers specifically to all the sacrifices, the tabernacle, and the priesthood.
It wasn’t necessarily meant to be this from the beginning for Israel. God’s intention at first was pure law to be given to the Jews. When Moses came down the mountain the first time he had the tablets of stone, but they never made it into the camp (Ex. 32:19). The law was already broken by Israel by the making of the golden calf. The survival of Israel as a nation was dependent on God making additions to pure law in order for Him to show mercy and compassion through atonement (covering of sin). You see this all in the conversations with Moses at the tabernacle outside the camp and the second time he goes up the mountain (Ex. 32:31- 34:9). Israel would not have survived under pure law – God would have wiped them from the face of the earth and would have raised up a new nation unto Moses (Ex. 32:1-10).
The other important understanding to learn is that the sacrifices offered according to the law were never desired by God or pleasing to Him. Though we can gain some spiritual insights by looking at the many different sacrifices and offerings, they are only as shadows and non-realities. And you have to remember this over-riding principle when you are concentrating on the details of the sacrifices, or else they become something to the believer that they really are not. This is the covenant of law. This is Judaism.
Important Understandings Concerning the Law
Other important understandings concerning the Law of Moses are listed below. We have already discussed many of them at length in this book. Put together they bring tremendous insight:
n It was how God tested the principle of responsibility in man and found no fruit.
n It was given to man in the flesh, man in the first Adam, and sinners already. The law and Judaism are tailored by God for man in the flesh. It is a walk in the flesh and by the senses.
n It exposes the presence of sin in the flesh by becoming the strength of sin (I Cor. 15:56), and allowing sin to abound more and more (Rom. 7:5-17, 5:20).
n It was given to Israel as a nation. It was never given to the Gentiles. Israel had it alone for over 1400 years. It is their covenant and theirs alone.
n Israel was the test case for all mankind, because they were the most privileged nation by God (Rom. 3:1-2). They failed miserably in responsibility (Matt. 21:33-40), proving the abject depravity of all mankind’s nature in Adam. When the testing was complete, God condemned the entire world (John 12:31), nailed the test papers to the cross (Col. 2:14, Eph. 2:15), and stopped the practice of the law by destroying Jerusalem and the temple.
n It is worship of God according to the flesh and the senses. It is worship according to the weak and beggarly elements of the world (Gal. 4:9). It is not worship of God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). This is a direct contrast of Judaism and Christianity. Judaism is a walk by sight, while Christianity is a walk of faith (II Cor. 5:7).
n The law, as a covenant, only gives birth to bondage and only could produce children in bondage and slavery (Gal. 4:24-25, 5:1).
n The law given to Israel placed all those who practice it, under a curse automatically (Gal. 3:10). This curse is judgment, condemnation and wrath from God. The scripture says, “…as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse…” This would be all Israel without exception.
n The covenant of law to Israel at Mt. Sinai was proven to be weak and flawed (Heb. 8:7). It had to be set aside. It presently is set aside by God, as well as the nation of Israel as a people. It is the only covenant God ever made that will and has come to an end (Heb. 8:13).
What was proved by the Testing of Israel?
Of importance, mentioned in the list above, is that the law was a testing in responsibility. It is important that you understand the parameters of the testing so you fully understand what was proved by the testing – the outcome and results. It is not enough to say that the law was a testing of Israel. There are many questions you have to consider and properly answer that explain this testing by God, so you have a proper understanding.
Why just Israel? God had no reason to test the Gentiles, because if Israel, the most favored and privileged nation by God, failed the testing, then Gentile failure was guaranteed. So Israel is the test case representing mankind.
The State and Condition of Mankind
What was Israel’s state and condition going into the testing? They were sinners. They were separated sinners, separated from the Gentile sinners in the rest of the world. But in nature and by birth, they were descendants of Adam just like the Gentiles. Now the scriptures describe this state and condition. It is the state of being in the flesh. It is being a slave of sin and dead in sin. It is, by nature, a child of wrath – that is, appointed for wrath and headed for it. As for righteousness – “There is none righteous, no not one.” As for seeking God – “There is none who seeks after God.”
“They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
This is the abject depravity of all mankind by birth in Adam. All of this is the definite result of the fall of man. It has left all men, Israel included, without God and without hope in this world. It is a state where man is without strength and resource, and simply put, is lost. And so, this was Israel’s state and condition going in.
And how did they emerge from the testing? They were still all sinners, and totally depraved. You see, any testing would test what you have going in. Naturally speaking, a test would not give you the answers or give you resources. The law, as the test, required and demanded of man what he ought to be, with God and with his neighbor. But it never gave him anything so he could be different than what he was already – a sinner in Adam. He was an Israelite for sure, but still a sinner in Adam.
This is what the testing proved – the human race’s state and condition in Adam. It is a desperate state, one needing to be recognized and understood. God tested for a reason – to show and fully prove man’s state and condition. But man will not admit or recognize his proven position in Adam. The overwhelming majority of believers do not understand this position, this testing and its results, while all along we are the ones who have been privileged by God taking us out of Adam and placing us in Christ! Often because we do not have this understanding, as believers, we will judge all things by sight and circumstances instead of by God’s Word and by seeking God’s thoughts. We may ask, “Are we better than they?”
The Coming of Messiah – the Last Testing of Mankind
When Christ came to Israel as their Messiah, this was the last testing by God of mankind. Israel was still the test case. He was their Messiah according to their prophetic scriptures, and the nation was looking for Him. But they could not recognize Him. They could not receive Him. Their state and condition in Adam was proven again! At His rejection, Jesus says, “Now is the judgment of the world.” (John 12:31) Notice – it is the judgment and condemnation of the whole world, not just the Jews. This is also expressed in Romans.
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
When Israel failed all its testing by God, then every mouth in the entire world was stopped. The world now was fully proven guilty and condemned.
Judaism – God’s Religion of the Earth
There are two distinct perspectives, from God’s viewpoint and scripture, involving the Law of Moses and Israel’s responsibility. It is almost as if there are two Jewish dispensations to consider. One is close to what we discussed above, but with an important difference. Instead of looking at the law as a test proving the utter depravity of mankind, in this Jewish dispensation, the law is God’s choice of Judaism as His religion of the earth. It was worship of the one true God, as opposed to all the other religions of man on the earth. And God gave it to Israel.
From the time of Israel before Mt. Sinai through the coming of Messiah, the law was practiced in Israel with few exceptions. This ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Israel and their law are set aside by God. The sacrifices stopped. There was no tabernacle, no temple, no veil, etc. Now most dispensationalists like to draw lines, ending one dispensation and starting the next. But here, I believe, is a dispensation that God sets aside for a time. The law is abolished for any individual in Christ (Eph. 2:15). But it is not abolished for the nation of Israel on the earth. It is their religion. It is God’s religion of the earth. It is simply set aside for now, as Israel is set aside.
In the end, when God recognizes Israel as a people again by saving a Jewish remnant, the Law of Moses, Judaism, will be practiced again in a new temple in Jerusalem (Ez. 40-48). Throughout the length of the millennium Judaism will be practiced as the religion of the earth, and by the earthly calling. It will be accomplished in the remnant by the sovereign power of God. And if I’m not mistaken, Israel will teach the law of God to the Gentile nations. Nevertheless, the dispensation seems to restart, which is contrary to most common dispensational teaching.
God’s Government of the Earth
The other Jewish dispensation involves the direct government of God on the earth with His presence in the midst of Israel. This also started at Mt. Sinai and continued through Solomon’s temple, until the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. When the prophets of God could no longer call Israel back to the law, and their idolatry and rebellion became too much for God to continue to honor with His presence, the glory leaves the temple, the city, and the earth. Interesting enough, there is a destruction of Jerusalem and the Solomon temple at this time (sound familiar?). It is a setting aside of Israel by God – they are no longer His people (Hos. 1:9). This also seems like a Jewish dispensation suspended. It will restart at the beginning of the millennium with the kingdom of the Son of Man over the entire earth, and the Messianic kingdom as a subset of it. Israel will become the most exalted nation on earth. So again, a Jewish dispensation is set aside and at a later time restarted.
But you say Israel rebuilt a temple under Nehemiah. That is certainly true, and they restarted the practice of the law with the priesthood and sacrifices. But what was always missing from their new temple? Missing was the Ark of the Covenant, the throne of God. Also the presence and glory of God never returned. This Jewish dispensation of the government of God over the earth by His presence in the midst of Israel was suspended. God now brought the Gentiles in for world government.
Isn’t there a Gentile Dispensation? Four Gentile World Empires
This Jewish dispensation concerning the government of God is interrupted by what would seem to be a Gentile dispensation of world civil government and the four beasts of Daniel 7. Why this isn’t considered a dispensation by the dispensationalists, I’m not sure. It has revelation and prophecy concerning it, responsibility given to the Gentiles, failure of that responsibility, and judgment from God. This looks like a dispensation.
God Deals with Israel as a Nation, as a People
A principle that is often missed that I believe is an important understanding is how God always seems to deal with Israel as a nation and a people. Rarely does He deal with them individually. They were delivered out of Egypt as one people and one nation. They are given the covenant at Mt. Sinai as a nation. Messiah comes to and ministers to the house of Israel. Their house is made desolate by God, the nation set aside. Whenever God saves in Israel, it always seems to be a remnant representing the nation – in the time of Elijah (Rom. 11:1-4), the time of the beginnings of the church (Rom. 11:5), and the Jewish remnant in the end (Rev. 7:1-8). We know that in the doctrines concerning the heavenly calling in Christ there are no nationalities. But Israel on the earth is always either ‘My people,’ or ‘not My people,’ in the mind and counsels of God.
When Israel is restored in the Promised Land during the millennium, it will be the Messianic kingdom ruling over twelve tribes. At that time a new covenant is given to the Jewish remnant that is placed in the land (Jer. 31:31-34). This promise of a new covenant with Israel is spoken of in the book of Hebrews.
7 “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
The Divided Kingdoms of Judah and Israel become One Nation
It is very clear that this covenant is with the two formerly divided kingdoms – the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In the millennium the two become one Messianic Kingdom (Jer. 3:18, 23:6, Ez. 37:15-28, Hos. 1:11), one people and one nation. It is clear that this is ‘a new covenant’ with Israel, because the first covenant with that nation was insufficient. Israel’s old covenant, given at Mt. Sinai, was written on tablets of stone. It is described as mere copies and shadows of the true (Heb. 8:1-5). As shadows, it always lacked a certain reality and power to change the worshiper. It left them with a continual consciousness of sins (Heb. 10:2).
God gives the Nation of Israel a New Covenant
This new covenant is not for the Gentiles. It is a new covenant with a united Israel. This is not the new covenant for New Testament believers. This is not for the body of Christ. This covenant for Israel does not exist today. It will only exist when Israel is acknowledged again by God as His people. He says, “…and I will be their God, and they shall be My People.” (Heb. 8:10). Presently Israel is Lo-Ammi (Hosea 1:9). As a people Israel is set aside (Heb. 8:9 – I disregarded them). God has set aside their law, their religion. Their covenant is described as obsolete and growing old – vanishing away (Heb. 8:13). In the sight of God they are not a people at this time, and they have no covenant. The above passage starts with the weakness and failure of the covenant from Sinai. Then it is “Behold, the days are coming…” This is the millennium. It is the sovereign work and power of God at that time.
This new covenant for Israel is the same law of God they were given back at Mt. Sinai. The difference is the finger of God writing on hearts of flesh, instead of tablets of stone (Ex. 31:18, Heb. 8:10). “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts.” Israel at this time will perfectly obey the law of God. They will have a new temple in Jerusalem and be making sacrifices and offerings according to the law written in their hearts and minds (Ez. 40-48). All previous sins will be totally removed from them (Heb. 8:12). From that point on they will sin no more by the sovereign power of God. A significant understanding of this is they perfectly obey while still being in the flesh and in Adam. This new covenant is the law written on their hearts and minds – it is not the removal of sin from their flesh. What we’ve said about Israel’s new covenant brings up some interesting thoughts when we consider the covenants discussed in Galatians 3 and 4.
The question for the theologians should be what are the thoughts of God, and are we teaching what God reveals and speaks in His word by His Spirit? When considering Galatians, we are discussing two distinct and legitimate covenants from God (Gal. 4:22-24). These are the two covenants of greatest importance concerning the counsels of God toward man. The covenant of promise was given to Abraham, and confirmed in his one Seed, who is Christ. We have discussed previously that the confirmation of this covenant was through a resurrected Christ, the Son of Man (Heb. 11:17-19, Gal. 3:16). The other covenant was the Law of Moses given to Israel at Mt. Sinai.
“Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”
The Covenant of Promise — Confirmed in the Son of Man Resurrected
The covenant of promise was confirmed in the resurrected Son of Man. This covenant did not exist until Jesus Christ came and completed the work of redemption, the death of the Son of Man on the cross. God, being fully satisfied and fully glorified, raises Jesus from the dead. It is in this glorified Man that the blessings and grace of the covenant of promise reside. It is being in this glorified Man, in Christ, that the believer is positioned, and enjoys all the privileges as being sons of God (Gal. 3:26, 4:5-7). This covenant was to Abraham and his Seed. It is for no one else, except the believer chosen and hidden in Christ (Gal. 3:26-29).
In a general sense this covenant of promise involves all the promises of God, whether earthly promises or heavenly promises. Jesus Christ, the one Seed of Abraham, secured every single promise and blessing by His death and shed blood. As I said in an earlier chapter, even the new heavens and the new earth after the millennium are based upon the shed blood of Christ. “For all the promises of God in Him are yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God…” The death of the Son of Man has simply paid the price for everything that God has promised and everything God will do (II Cor. 1:20).
The earthly promises were given to Abraham for his ‘many seeds’ after the flesh – the nation of Israel. They cannot have the earthly promises presently because, as a nation, they rejected the one Seed and crucified Him. These promises remain set aside, because Messiah is set aside as well as the nation of Israel itself. In the end, in His sovereignty, God is faithful to fulfill all. He sends their Messiah to them a second time. God will again acknowledge Israel as His people and He as their God.
I mentioned earlier in this chapter that God’s dealings with Israel are always as a people and a nation. This is an important point to notice and this principle has its connections to the earth and Israel’s earthly calling. As a nation they were delivered out of Egypt and given the law. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years as a nation, even those among them who had the good report. They went into captivity as a people. When God acknowledges them, it is as a people, as a nation. And when He doesn’t, it is they are not my people (Hos. 1:9). This is how you may recognize some of the prophecies concerning Israel restored in the end, simply because in the language of the prophecy Jehovah once again acknowledges them (Ez. 34:23-31, 36:23-28, Jer. 30:18-22). In the end the Jewish remnant represents what Jehovah sovereignly saves as the nation of Israel, twelve tribes numbered and sealed by the hand of God (Rev. 7:1-8, Rom. 11:25-29).
“Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers,”
“And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus:
‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.’”
The sure mercies of David are all God’s promises made to the fathers of Israel. These promises are physical and earthly in nature. They are tied to the Promised Land and restoration, a throne of David, and a son of David reigning over twelve tribes (Ez. 34:23-24). These earthly promises are obviously confirmed by the Son of Man raised up from the dead, the One Seed of Abraham.
This does not mean that Israel is partakers of the covenant of promise. Rather, quite the contrary. All it means is that Israel’s promises are secured for them, by the shed blood of Christ and the unchanging faithfulness of the God who made the promises. When they are restored in the land and enjoy the physical blessings and prosperity of Jehovah, it is not the covenant of promise He makes with them (Heb. 8:6-12).
The covenant of promise characterizes the Christian believer as ‘in Christ’ by faith and a son of God (Gal. 3:26, 4:5-7). Being of faith we are sons of Abraham (Gal. 3:7, 9). The promise of the Spirit, who is the guarantee of the inheritance, is given to us through faith (Gal. 3:2, 14, 29, 4:6-7). These truths and more are benefits to being ‘in Christ’ and partakers of the covenant of promise. We individually have sonship with the Father, and Christ is our brother. We are members one of another, the body of Christ and His bride. We are seated in heavenly places ‘in Christ’ and blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. Our citizenship is in heaven and not on this earth or of this world. The point is the many seeds of Abraham according to the flesh (Gal. 3:16) cannot claim any of these truths. They are connected to the earth, having rejected the one Seed of Abraham.
Abraham had Promise, Israel had Law
The other covenant was four hundred and thirty years later. It was the covenant of law. Who was it given to? — Israel at Mt. Sinai. Now we see in the counsels of God concerning the earth and what He saves and restores in the land in the end. It is a remnant of Israel. Jehovah will write His law on their hearts and in their minds. During the millennium they will obey it perfectly, by the sovereign power of God. They will live in the land; they will grow and prosper (Deut. 28:1-14). Israel and Jerusalem will be the center of the earth and the center of the government of God over the earth.
Was the covenant of Law given to Abraham? No, he wasn’t there. Besides he already had a covenant. The truth of the matter is once the covenant of promise was confirmed in Christ (Gen. 22:15-18), it could not be annulled or added to or changed in any way. Its promises and blessings depended on the character of God alone – His faithfulness. It remains fairly obvious then that Abraham had one covenant, and Israel had the other. And never did the two meet (Gal. 4:28-31). The covenant of law could not annul, or add to, or change the previous covenant of promise (Gal. 3:15-18). It could not touch it in any way.
Promise – God’s Sovereign Choice and Grace
The covenant of promise has the character of God’s sovereign choice and grace. This is the same character of the calling of Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans.
“Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.”
God chose Abram out of the idolatry that surrounded him in his home country. God’s calling of him was a separation from father, family, and country. He was sent to a place that God would give him. In this calling, Abram is a type of the believer, for he left all to sojourn in a foreign land as a stranger and pilgrim (Heb. 11:8-9, 13). With the calling of Abram, God has an entrance back into the earth among man. It is an entrance of promise founded in God’s very own faithfulness.
Where the covenant of promise has the character of God’s grace and choice, the covenant of law is the opposite. It is a testing of man — can man be righteous before God? Man’s responsibility is looked at and tested in his relationship with God and with his neighbor. It was only Israel that was tested, as the test case for all mankind. The failure of the law was immediate. Israel made a golden calf. The failure of the law was certain. It was given to man in the first Adam, already sinners. So we should be able to reason, knowing that God knew this beforehand, that He had different intentions for giving the law than what is usually thought by man. It was a ministration of death and condemnation (II Cor. 3:7, 9).
With their Covenant of Law Israel always a Bond Servant
The covenant of promise resulted in many sons of God (Gal. 3:26). The covenant of law produced slaves and servants (Gal. 4:22-25). This is always what Israel was with the law – a slave to sin in Adam, and a servant in the house of God.
“Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
The sons of God by the covenant of promise abide in the house of God forever. We are the ones in Christ, who the Son has made free from slavery and servant hood. And we are free indeed. But the law could not do this for Israel. Rather, by the covenant of law, Israel was a slave to the power of sin – the law only making sin to abound all the more (Rom. 5:20). By the law they were always servants in the house, not ever knowing what the master was doing (John 15:15), and with no chance of abiding forever. The covenant of promise is about God, and who He is in faithfulness. The covenant of law is about man, and what he is in Adam.
Israel is Set Aside, and so is the Law
I have spoken repeatedly in these chapters of how Israel was set aside by God. I have shown this through the scriptures. When Stephen was murdered, Israel was guilty of sinning against the Holy Spirit. This is Israel morally set aside, and God, in 70 AD, destroys Jerusalem and the temple. If Israel is set aside, then God no longer recognizes them as a nation, as a people. In God’s eyes they are as the Gentiles, and that is where He scattered them. With the destruction of the temple, God stops the practice of Judaism – the Law of Moses. What purpose does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions – it was very good at this, exposing sin and sins (Gal. 3:19). It was added until the Seed should come – the Seed came and went, and God stopped the practice of the law. As a covenant, the law isn’t recognized by God, just as He doesn’t recognize Israel as a nation. As a covenant, the law basically doesn’t exist presently.
It doesn’t matter what man acknowledges. It only truly matters what God acknowledges. I’ve tried to make this point as well. It doesn’t matter what man’s thoughts are, it only truly matters what God’s thoughts are. It doesn’t matter what man does, what he builds, what he teaches, and on and on. The only thing that matters is the counsels of God – His one plan, and how He sovereignly brings it to pass. The only works that will last are those which God alone is working. This is so His own glory will always remain untarnished, and so man will never have a reason to boast. This is far from the present reasoning of man, and even that of many believers. In the end however, this will be proven to be so, and God will be the one doing the proving.
The Personal Stewardship (Dispensation) given to Paul
This present age is about the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven after the Son of Man was glorified (John 13:31-32). It is the time of the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ coming in, the Spirit gathering the body of the glorified Man (Rom. 11:25). The earth and prophecy has been set aside presently, and these are only heavenly things now (John 3:12). As a dispensation, it is hard to make heavenly things and the heavenly calling into one. It isn’t of the present earth, it’s hidden from prophecy, and it’s not the counting of time. When Paul speaks of a dispensation of grace, it seems to me to be a personal stewardship of responsibility (Eph. 3:1-2). He says,”…which was given to me for you…” That would be his personal responsibility to make known the mystery of Christ to the Gentiles and fill up the remainder of the word of God (Col. 1:25). A personal stewardship that would only last the length of his life.
If the defining characteristic of a dispensationalist is maintaining the distinct separation between Israel and the church, then I am overwhelmingly guilty of being one. This distinction is critical to any proper understanding of scripture. The teaching of this book focuses on the separation between the earthly and heavenly callings. The ‘plain or normal interpretation’ of scripture brings forth God’s thoughts, and should always be maintained. Mostly it isn’t a matter of interpretation, but a good translation with an understanding of the meaning of words put together by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is what they mean by literal interpretation. I would rather call it a literal understanding of a good translation. As indicated in the first chapter, the use of interpretation should be reserved for parables, types, and symbolic prophetic language. But this should be the legitimate extent of its use. The spiritualization of scripture, in my opinion, becomes the manipulation of scripture in the effort to make everything fit nicely into doctrinal systems.
The endpoint of all God’s counsels is the absolute glory of God. Doctrinal systems should never compromise this understanding. There are some great Biblical principles that all doctrinal systems should fully address. Listed below are some notable examples that we have discussed in this book:
n The rest or sabbath of God – this is where man started, in paradise. It was the rest of God because there was no presence of sin in man. Adam’s disobedience ruined this. Now sin was in the flesh of man. The future rest of God will always be after sin in the flesh is removed. For the body of Christ and the heavenly calling, this is when it is removed from the earth, and our bodies glorified. For the earthly calling it is after the great white throne judgment by the Son of Man, and the beginning of the eternal state in the new heavens and the new earth. There are types and shadows in the Old Testament concerning the rest of God that the believer enters into. These types are dealt with in Hebrews 3-4.
n The Law of Moses was a testing of mankind. What God proved by the testing was the utter depravity of man in Adam. This gives you the real reason why God gave this covenant to Israel. This understanding shows God’s intentions and thoughts behind the law. When we romanticize the law, we make it into something that it isn’t, and false doctrines soon follow. As it was given, written on tablets of stone, it was only ever an administration of death and condemnation.
n There are heavenly things and earthly things, and great biblical principles concerning both (John 3:12, Eph. 1:10). For example: the government of the earth and its development in scripture, and its relationship to the gathering in the end of all things on earth in Christ, the Son of Man. This began with Jehovah’s presence in Israel from Mt. Sinai and progressed through the ‘times of the Gentiles.’ In the millennium it is the kingdom and power of the Son of Man.
n The understanding of the Biblical principle of God acknowledging Israel as His people and He as their God. This is contrasted with times when He sets Israel aside (Hos. 1:9) – first, relating to God’s government of the earth. Second as relating to a group of subjects: Messiah, Messianic promises, prophecy, earthly things, and the counting of time. This entire grouping was set aside when Israel was set aside morally at the rejection of Christ as their Messianic King.
These are just some of the important Biblical principles that a doctrinal system should explain.
A Better Understanding of Scripture – the First Adam and the Last Adam
When I look for a means of dividing scriptures, I find the understandings surrounding the first Adam and the last Adam to be invaluable. The first man started it all and brought ruin to the human race. The last Adam is Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. The redemptive work of this Man is the foundation of all the work that God accomplishes. In the end, God’s working gathers all things in Jesus Christ, the Son of Man – things distinctly in the heavens first, and then things distinctly on the earth (Eph. 1:10). The overriding purpose of the glory of God is magnified in all God does to glorify the Son of Man (John 13:31-32) – that is, after the Son of Man glorified God by His one act of obedience (Rom. 5:18), His death.
It all can be explained by the two Adams, and the understanding spans the length of Scripture. The first Adam is a type of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. This Man, the Son of Man come down from heaven, is the Seed of the woman that would eventually crush the serpent’s head. We have shown conclusively in this book that the Son of Man raised from the dead is the Seed of Abraham in whom the Covenant of Promise was confirmed. In Abraham were the many seeds according to the flesh (Israel – the earthly calling), but also the one Seed of Promise. In this one Seed, in Christ, are all the many sons of God, those of the heavenly calling. They are those that He is not ashamed to call His brethren. They are the many sons He brings to glory.
In the second Adam and based upon His death, are absolutely all the promises of God confirmed. The sum total of these promises is the counsels of God. It does not matter whether we speak of heavenly promises in the heavenly calling or earthly promises in the earthly calling. All the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God (II Cor. 1:20). It is all gathered into Jesus Christ, the last Adam, the Son of Man.
From paradise, through the fall of man, all the way to the coming of Messiah, it was the economy of the first Adam. Man was sold under sin, with death and condemnation as the only result (Rom. 5:12-14). All of it was the consequence of the disobedience of the first man. Sure enough, we can divide this time up between man without law practicing lawlessness (Rom. 5:14) and Israel, given the law, practicing transgressions (Rom. 5:20). After God had fully tested and condemned the entire world in the first Adam (John 12:31, Rom. 3:9-19, 23), He brings in the second Adam, the Son of Man – that His death and His blood would be the propitiation for it all (Rom. 3:24-26). Now God brings forth the working out of all His counsels based simply on nothing else, but the death of this Man – Jesus Christ, Son of God as the Son of Man.